23 Mar Being Human
By Makena Schoene
Blog and Social Media Coordinator, The Drake Community Press
If you haven’t heard of a Google Doodle, you probably aren’t alone. But you’ve probably seen the various transformations the Google logo acquires when we run the popular search engine. Almost a month ago, the logo featured Earth peering into a telescope in honor of NASA’s recent discovery of a 7 planet solar system. The Google Doodles, which change to celebrate holidays and events (such as the Trappist- 1 system discovery) also serves to recognize the achievements of individuals in the world and throughout history.
On February 28th, 2017, Google honored award – winning Pakastani philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi, with one of their beloved doodles. Edhi, who is often referred to as the “Angel of Mercy”, was known best for establishing the Edhi Foundation, a non-profit social welfare organizations responsible for running hospitals, homeless shelters and orphanages in Pakistan, while providing 24 hour emergency service free of charge.
In honor of what would have been Edhi’s 89th birthday (he passed away in 2016), this Google Doodle reminds the world of man whose efforts provided life-saving services for a country where medical aid, education and other essential services were unavailable for a majority of the population. According to Aljazeera.com, a media network based in Qatar, Edhi focused on humanitarian efforts, rather than religious motivation for his work. Funded by private donations such as zakat, an obligatory charitable contribution in Islam, the money is used to help Muslims, Hindus and Christians.
“My religion is humanitarianism, which is the basis of every religion in the world.”
– Abdul Sattar Edhi
Edhi believed in helping everyone, regardless of their backgrounds or religious identification. Inclusiveness is just one of the many themes that DCP’s newest book, A Spectrum of Faith, hopes to instill in its readers, and yet it is not yet a universal practice.
DCP Founder, Carol Spaulding- Kruse and Professor Timothy Knepper, the director of The Comparison Project, both offered their insight on Edhi’s famous words and what it means to be a human in this world.
MS: What does this quote mean for you as an observer of the world and member of this community?
CSK: I wish it were universally true of religion, which at its basis seems to be about how we treat one another. A look at the daily news, however, is clear evidence that it is not. Many humanitarians, of course, are not religious at all.
TK: It is unfortunate that few may think of humanitarianism as the basis of every religion of the world. Many in the “West,” I suspect, might think instead about religions as systems of belief that are true or false. Others, might think of religions as means of providing meaning for individual lives, or of religions as providing means of reaching heavenly, postmortem destinations.
It is also unfortunate that some use something like “humanitarianism” as a means of lumping all religions together in an uncritical way, as if all religions are really just the same. They’re not.
In times like these, it might be important to stress the basic similarities between religions, but I think it is also important to be mindful of their differences. Yes, we are all the same as humans and all religions do have a common human core; but humans can be quite different in terms of cultures. (Even one and the same religion can be quite different in different cultures.) There is a real “sin” in thinking that everyone else is “just like us” (just as there is a real “sin” in thinking that others are differently inferior to us).
MS: Based on the religious diversity that DCP has been exploring in Des Moines, could this quote be seen as a way to break down the invisible barriers that society erects to discriminate against people based on their religion?
CSK: I definitely see the book as breaking down barriers people may have to finding out about one another’s faith. Sometimes, people don’t know where to start learning for fear of looking ignorant or making a mistake. Spectrum of Faith offers a first glimpse into the religious diversity in our area, but we hope it is only a start. Later activities sponsored by TCP include an interfaith exchange conference, Religious Freedom Day at the capital, and a “Meet Your Religious Neighbor” program coming later this year.
TK: Yes, I certainly hope so, provided that it is seen as a way to enter into the religions of the other rather than an excuse not to bother (since there’s nothing to learn since it is assumed that they are just like “me”).
MS: How does Spectrum work to promote this inclusive view to bring readers closer to understanding others and each of the religious communities featured in the book?
CSK: Religions Capstone students have worked on a Reader’s Guide with questions and background information about each of the 15 chapters. This could be used to create discussion groups in schools, community groups and religious education programs to further their knowledge and understanding.
TK: I would like to think that each chapter brings out the humanity—the humans—of each community. We don’t provide top-down distillations of beliefs; rather we look at the practices engaged in and the meaning made by the humans in these communities.
I would also like to think that each chapter shows that what is fundamentally human can be understood differently in different religious traditions. For the “Semitic” traditions, to be human is to be in relationship with God. But for Jews, this relationship is understood as the faithful obedience to Torah, for Christians, as loving relationship with Jesus, and for Muslims, as submission to Allah with one’s entire life. The same holds true of the “Indian” religions, in a sense. Here, what is human is usually understood to involve progressive growth over lifetimes toward enlightenment. But for Hindus, this can involve devotion to a particular deity, for Buddhists, it can involve practicing the teachings of the Buddha, and for Sikhs, it can involve remembering God and living honestly. So there is a common humanity, but it is expressed differently.
Photo provided by Google